That's right, five years after his death, Derek Shepherd made a surprising appearance in the last moments of the premiere. How, you ask? Well, it was all a dream, of course.
After an episode Ellen Pompeo's Meredith Grey spent in the coronavirus ward of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, she collapsed in the hospital's parking lot -- before dreaming of seeing Derek on a beach.
Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.
In an interview with Deadline, showrunner Krista Vernoff confirmed it's not the last viewers will see of Derek-- telling the publication, "It's more than the one scene you saw ... and it was just joyful." His continued appearance was also teased in a promo for next week (above).
Dempsey and Pompeo joined Vernoff for the interview, where they all opened up about how his return came about. Vernoff pitched a beach motif to Ellen before production on the season began, telling her Meredith could dream of a dead character as a treat for the fans. "And she said, let's get Patrick," added the showrunner.
Dempsey reached out to Pompeo after coming across a photo of the two of them together and asked if they could meet and catch up. "We hadn't spoken or been together for a while," said Dempsey, as they talked about what they could do together to help frontline responders during the pandemic. That led to a conversation about what else they could do "to make people feel better, to give some comfort in this time of uncertainty," he explained.
The two met up for a hike, where Pompeo says she "just said to him, 'Would you ever consider coming and being a part of the storytelling this season?'"
"I know that Patrick has his foundation in Maine where he helps cancer patients and cancer survivors, and that's a huge effort of his, and I know that it's important to him, also, to give people hope, and give people joy, and we wanted to bring something to this moment," she added.
While his return was kept a secret from much of the show's cast and crew -- some of whom found out watching the show last night -- Dempsey said filming his scenes was a cathartic experience.
"I think the whole atmosphere has changed, certainly working at the beach, and seeing everybody again was really a very healing process, and really rewarding, and a lot of fun," he explained. "And hopefully, that feeling translates, and the fans enjoy it. I know that they've been wanting us to get back together, and I think this will satisfy a lot of people, and surprise a lot of people, hopefully."
He went on to praise the diversity and equality behind the cameras on the show when he returned. "Culturally, there was a lot of things that were different, that I thought were very positive and very inspiring, actually," he added.
In addition to Vernoff's tease that there's more Derek to come, Dempsey said he'd be down to return again if asked.
"Yeah, it was fun, because I really love the message of what the dynamic is in this story," he said when asked about more episodes down the line. "With everything that we're dealing with right now, and certainly we have been distracted with the election, but we're going to get back into the reality of COVID and being in a pandemic, and all the lives that have been lost. Where are these souls going? And I think that's what attracted me to this storyline, I think it can be really helpful and healing to so many people."